Archeologists in Tulsa, Oklahoma, looking for victims of the 1921 massacre said on Wednesday they’ve uncovered more than 10 coffins in what they believe is a mass grave.
The grave was found at the Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa, and the New York Times reported records and research suggested that as many as 18 victims would be found. The process of digging the graves out and finding out who the people in them are is expected to be a slow and careful process to avoid deterioration.
According to Kary Stackelbeck, a state archaeologist, the remains will stay in place until they can be exhumed properly.
“We have a high degree of confidence that this is one of the locations we were looking for,” Stackelbeck told the Times. “But we have to remain cautious because we have not done anything to expose the human remains beyond those that have been encountered.”
Investigators have not confirmed if any of the remains belong to people who died in the incident. Brenda Alford, a descendant of survivors of the race massacre, told CNN that she was very pleased with the progress of the search.
“We basically are thinking of our loved ones, our community members who lost their lives very, very tragically,” Alford, who is also the chair of the investigation’s public oversight committee, told CNN. “I am just very appreciative of all the hard work that is going into finding our truth, to again bring some sense of justice and healing to our community.”
The Tulsa Race Massacre occurred on May 31 and June 1, 1921. Mobs of white residents, many of them carrying weapons and deputized by local authorities, attacked Black residents and Black-owned businesses in the Greenwood District of Tulsa. The attack came from both the ground and the air through private aircrafts. At the time, Greenwood was known as the wealthiest Black community in the United States, known as Black Wall Street.
More than 800 people were admitted into hospitals as a result and the Tulsa Reparations Coalition was able to confirm 39 deaths, 26 Black and 13 white, based on contemporary autopsy reports, death certificates, and other records. Historians put the death count much higher. Some believe as many as 300 people died and more than 1,000 homes were burned and destroyed.
According to Wikipedia, the massacre began on Memorial Day when Dick Rowland, a Black shoe shiner, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, a 17-year-old white girl. Rowland was taken into custody and a group of Black men, some of who were armed, showed up at the jail in order to make sure Rowland was not lynched.
The local sheriff talked the group into leaving, assuring them Rowland would not be touched. As they left, a group of white men showed up and one of them tried to take a gun away from a member of the Black group. A shot was fired during the tussle leading to a firefight between the two groups. Ten white men and two Black men died in the shootout which led to the massacre.